Hinge cutting is a popular and useful tool for improving deer habitat. It can also involve significant risk of injury since chainsaws and trees are involved. Luckily there are some very simple rules that can keep you safe while you hinge cut to improve forage and cover for deer.
From NDA’s perspective, we see many examples of unsafe hinge cutting practices among habitat managers, many of whom are then sharing these examples and even recommending the practices to others. Here are three of the most common safety mistakes we see hunters making while hinge cutting trees.
Chainsaw While Naked
It is surprising how often we see folks demonstrating hinge cut advice without any thought to their own safety. The first sign of trouble is a lack of basic safety gear.
Don’t crank a chainsaw for any purpose until you put on your Personal Protective Equipment, like the habitat manager in the photo above. The minimum includes chainsaw-proof chaps to protect your legs, a safety helmet, face and eye screen, hearing protection, and appropriate boots.
The majority of chainsaw injuries involve the legs and hands. Chainsaw proof chaps are designed to stop a running chain on contact. Other injuries involve falling trees and debris, or getting hit by a tree or limb that is released from tension by cutting. A helmet with a face shield reduces the risk of serious injury in such cases.
Hinge Cut Large Trees
Instead of simply folding over, trees that are very large and heavy can split or kick unexpectedly when hinge cut. A “barber-chair” is when a large tree splits vertically and breaks at a point high above the ground, allowing the weight of the tree to fall straight down.
To avoid dangerous outcomes like this, we do not recommend hinge cutting trees larger than 10 inches in diameter at chest height. Larger trees can safely be dropped with felling cuts or simply killed standing by girdling and spraying herbicides in the cut.
Some tree species are more prone than others to split unexpectedly and should not be hinge cut regardless of size. In his educational booklet Forest Stand Improvement, Dr. Craig Harper of the University of Tennessee reports that species like ash, walnut and yellow buckeye are bad to split instead of hinge.
This is a good reason you should be able to identify a tree before you cut it. Additionally, selecting a tree to remove or leave should be done based on species.
Hinge Cut Too High
Never hold a chainsaw over your shoulders no matter what you are cutting. When you hold a chainsaw at this height, you have less control over it and less ability to handle the saw if it kicks back. When a saw held at this height kicks back suddenly, your head or neck will catch it.
From a deer habitat standpoint, there is no practical advantage to hinge cutting trees higher than chest height. We have seen some people recommend the use of ladders to make high-level hinge cuts, but this is also extremely dangerous. Never operate a chainsaw while standing on a ladder! Watch enough “chainsaw fail” videos on social media and you will quickly realize many of them involve ladders.
In addition to the above safety measures, it’s also a good idea to work with a partner or partners when using a chainsaw in the woods. If you must work alone, keep your mobile phone close. Tell someone where you will be working and when you are expected to return.